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Archive for the ‘Servants’ Category

We’ve heard the term, “Behind the green baize doors”, but what exactly does it mean? You hear this reference most often in regard to servants and in old books.

Baize was a sturdy green cloth attached to a swing door.  The insulating fabric prevented noises from disturbing the individuals on either side:

The ‘Green Baize Door’ was the dividing line between the two domains, and trespassing beyond meant going into foreign territory. The ‘Green Baize Door’ was a feature of almost every substantial house. It was generally an ordinary framed door onto which was tacked a green baize cloth, usually with brass tacks. It was the universal signal of the dividing line between the two halves of the house.The Bull children would not be tolerated by the servants in the domestic part of the house unless they were working under supervision. This was like walking into somebody else’s house. The servants would normally use a different route to get to the various parts of the house, and would aim to be seen as little as possible. This was not because they were considered beneath notice: on the contrary, it was so that they could do their work uninterrupted by the requirement to exchange civilities. Houses evolved so that domestic staff could go about their task without interruption, not to ensure the privacy of the residents. They had none. –Borley Rectory and the Green-Baize DoorDomestic life at Borley Rectory, by Andrew Clarke copyright 2002

Image @Chest of Books

The brass-headed tacks holding the cloth down could sometimes be arranged in a decorative design. The cloth not only deadened sound but also absorbed kitchen odors. Green baize doors became popular during the mid-Eighteenth century, so Jane Austen must have been aware of the practice, which was more and more used as the 19th century progressed. During Victorian times the practice of sound proofing doors with baize was quite common. The cloth could also be used to insulate nursery room doors, bedroom doors, and doors leading to studies or any place where sound needed to be muffled.

It was a time when housemaids were taught to turn their face to the wall if they should pass their employer on the stairs. For whose protection? one wonders. The era of Squire Allworthy and Sir Roger de Coverley had long passed, when relations between master and man were more informal. – The green baize door: social identity in Wodehouse; Part two – Allan Ramsay 

Early 19th century mahogany desk with baize lining**

Baize (or bayes), also known as a bocking flannel,  was a coarse wool or cotton material, which had a felt-like texture:

“In Europe, baize was used mainly for case, cabinet and closet linings, as well as furniture coverings. Clothing baize was used for monk and nun habits as well as soldier’s uniforms. In the North American Native market, the term baize frequently alludes to inexpensive coarse broadcloth. – Wool Trade Cloth 

Baize dates back to the 16th century, 1525 to be precise. A mid-17th century English ditty about the history of ale and beer brewing, mentions “bays”:

Hops, heresies, bays, and beer;
Came into England all in one year.

“Heresies refers to the Protestant Reformation, while bays is the Elizabethan spelling for baize. – Good English Ale 

Baize scrap from the Titanic. Image @Online Titanic Museum*

Baize was used in a number of ways, including as a protective cover for gaming tables, for the nap of the cloth increased friction, preventing cards from sliding and slowing billiard or snooker balls.  The cloth is available in a variety of naps. Roman Catholic churches used red or green baize for altar cloth protectors, and the cloth was used in museum cases and desks as well.

St. Jerome in his study

As previously mentioned, baize was also used for clothing.

“I would recommend to you the Green Baize Gown, and if that will not answer, You recollect the Bear Skin.” Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 3 December 1788

The site for Knox Family Clothing mentioned mid-18th century receipts for baize and bayes,  as well as rattinet, armozeen, dowles, buff battinet, flannel, linen, silk, and velvet.

In Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, published in 1876, Mary Foote Henderson recommends:

“Put a thick baize under the table-cloth. This is quite indispensable. It prevents noise, and the finest and handsomest table – linen looks comparatively thin and sleazy on a bare table.”  

The Staircase Hall at Uppark. The red baize door leads to the servants' quarters. ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

Red baize was also used as insulating material, as the decorative door at Uppark (image above) indicated. (National Treasure Hunt, National Trust Collections) In this advertisement for an 1808 Georgian house for sale, a red baize door to the inner lobby is featured. The red baize servant door providing access to the inner lobby and the kitchen, rear reception and breakfast room. 1808 house

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This Sunday, PBS will air on most stations an hour presentation of  Secrets of the Manor House, a documentary narrated by Samuel West, that explains how society was transformed in the years leading up to World War One. Expert historians, such as Lawrence James and Dr. Elisabeth Kehoe, discuss what life was like in these houses, explain the hierarchy of the British establishment, and provide historical and social context for viewers. For American viewers of Downton Abbey, this special couldn’t have come at a better time.

The British manor house represented a world of privilege, grace, dignity and power.

For their services for the King in war, soldiers were awarded lands and titles. The aristocracy rose from a warrior class.

This world was inhabited by an elite class of people who were descended from a line of professional fighting men, whose titles and land were bestowed on them by a grateful king.

Manderston House, Berwickshire.

For over a thousand years, aristocrats viewed themselves as a race apart, their power and wealth predicated on titles, landed wealth, and political standing.

Huge tracts of lands with fields, villages, laborers' cottages, and forests surrounded country estates.

Vast landed estates were their domain, where a strict hierarchy of class was followed above stairs as well as below it. In 1912, 1 ½ million servants tended to the needs of their masters. As many as 100 would be employed as butler, housekeeper, house maids, kitchen maids, footmen, valets, cooks, grooms, chauffeurs, forestry men, and agricultural workers. Tradition kept everyone in line, and deference and obedience to your betters were expected (and given).

22 staff were required to run Manderston House, which employed 100 servants, many of whom worked in the gardens, fields, and forests.

As a new century began, the divide between rich and poor was tremendous. While the rich threw more extravagant parties and lived lavish lives, the poor were doomed to live lives of servitude and hard work.

Lord Palmer pulls on a false bookcase to open a passage to the next room.

Manderston House in Berwickshire represents the excesses of its time. The great house consists of 109 rooms, and employed 98 servants just before the outbreak of World War One. Twenty two servants worked inside the house to tend to Lord Palmer and his family. Every room inside the house interconnected.

The curtains in the ballroom of Manderston House look as fresh as the year they were made in 1904.

The curtains and drapes, woven with gold and silver thread, were made in Paris in 1904 and cost the equivalent of 1.5 million dollars. Manderston House itself was renovated at the turn of the century for 20 million dollars in today’s money. This was during an era when scullery maids earned the equivalent of $50 per year.

Once can clearly see the differences in bell sizes in this photo.

The servant hall boasted 56 bells, each of a different size that produced a unique ring tone. Servants were expected to memorize the sound for the areas that were under their responsibility.

Scullery maids were placed at the bottom of the servant hierarchy. They rose before dawn to start the kitchen fires and put water on to boil. Their job was to scrub the pots, pans and dishes, and floors, and even wait on other servants.

Life was not a bed of roses for the working class and the gulf between the rich and poor could not have been wider than during the turn of the 21st century.

Thoroughbred horses lived better than the working classes.

While the servants slept in the attic or basement, thoroughbred horses were housed in expensively designed stable blocks. As many as 16 grooms worked in the stables, for no expense was spared in tending to their needs.

The stables at Manderston House required 16 grooms to feed, care for, and exercise the horses.

As men and women worked long hours, as much as 17-18 hours per day, the rich during the Edwardian era lived extravagant, indulgent lives of relaxation and pleasure, attending endless rounds of balls, shooting parties, race meetings, and dinner parties.

Up to the moment that war was declared, the upper classes lived as if their privileged lives would never change.

The Edwardian era marked the last great gasp of manor house living with its opportunities of providing endless pleasure. For the working class and poor, the inequities within the system became more and more apparent. The landed rich possessed over one half of the land. Their power was rooted in owning land, for people who lived on the land paid rent. The landed gentry also received income from investments,  rich mineral deposits on their land, timber, vegetables grown in their fields, and animals shipped to market.

The lord of the manor and his steward can be seen walking among the farm laborers, many of whom were women.

The need to keep country estates intact and perpetuate a family’s power was so important that the eldest son inherited everything – the estate, title, all the houses, jewels, furnishings, and art. The laws of primogeniture ensured that country estates would not be whittled away over succeeding generations. In order to consolidate power, everything (or as much as possible) was preserved. Entailment, a law that went back to the 13th century, ensured that portions of an estate could not be sold off.

The Lord Mayor of London was seated at the center of the table next to the Countesses of Stamford and Lichfield.

The system was rigged to favor the rich. Only men who owned land could vote, and hereditary peers were automatically given a seat in the House of Lords. By inviting powerful guests to their country estates, they could lobby for their special interests across a dinner table, at a shoot, or at a men’s club.

Thoroughbred horses were valued for their breeding and valor, traits that aristocrats identified with.

The Industrial Revolution brought about changes in agricultural practices and inventions that presaged the decline of aristocratic wealth. Agricultural revenues, the basis on which landed wealth in the UK was founded, were in decline. Due to better transportation and refrigeration, grain transported from Australia and the U.S. became cheaper to purchase. Individuals were able to build wealth in other ways – as bankers and financiers. While the landed gentry could still tap resources from their lands and expand into the colonies, the empire too began to crumble with the rise of nationalism and nation states.

The servant hierarchy echoed the distinctions of class upstairs. The chef worked at the end of the table on the left, while the lowest ranking kitchen maids chopped vegetables at the far right. The kitchen staff worked 17 hours a day and rarely left the kitchen.

Contrasted with the opulent life above stairs was an endless life of drudgery below stairs. On a large estate that entertained visitors, over 100 meals were prepared daily. Servants rose at dawn and had to stay up until the last guest went to bed. Kitchen maids, who made the equivalent of 28 dollars per year, rarely strayed outside the kitchen.

Steep back stairs that servants used. Out of sight/out of mind.

One bath required 45 gallons of water, which had to be hauled by hand up steep, narrow stairs. At times, a dozen guests might take baths on the same day. House maids worked quietly and unseen all over the manor house. The were expected to move from room to room using their own staircases and corridors. Underground tunnels allowed servants to move unseen crossing courtyards.

Manderston House's current butler shows the servant's hall

Maids and footmen lived in their own quarters in the attic or basement. Men were separated from the women and were expected to use different stairs. Discipline was strict. Servants could be dismissed without notice for the most minor infraction.

Footmen tended to be young, tall, and good looking.

Footmen, whose livery cost more than their yearly salary, were status symbols. Chosen for their height and looks, they were the only servants allowed to assist the butler at dinner table. These men were the only servants allowed upstairs.

Green baize doors separated the servants quarters from the master's domain.

Green baize doors were special doors that marked the end of the servants quarters and hid the smells of cooking and noises of the servants from the family.

The Jerome sisters were (l to r) Jennie, Clara, and Leonie.

As revenues from agriculture dwindled, the upper classes searched for a new infusion of capital.This they found in the American heiress, whose fathers had built up their wealth from trade and transportation. Free from the laws of primogeniture, these wealthy capitalists distributed their wealth among their children, sharing it equally among sons and daughters. The ‘Buccaneers,’ as early American heiresses were called, infused the British estates with wealth. ‘Cash for titles’ brought 60 million dollars into the British upper class system via 100 transatlantic marriages.

Working class family

Transatlantic passages worked both ways, even as American heiresses crossed over to the U.K.,  millions of British workers emigrated to America looking for a better life. The sinking of the Titanic, just two years before the outbreak of World War One, underscored the pervasive issue of class.

Most likely this lifeboat from the Titanic was filled with upper class women and children. Only 1 in 3 people survived.

The different social strata were housed according to rank, and it was hard to ignore that a large percentage of first class women and children survived, while the majority of third and second class passengers died.

Labor strikes became common all over the world, including the U.K.

Society changed as the working class became more assertive and went on strikes. The Suffragette movement gained momentum. Prime Minister David Lloyd George was a proponent of reform, even as the aristocracy tried to carry on as before.

Lloyd George campaigned for progressive causes.

Inventions revolutionized the work place. Electricity, telephones, the type writer, and other labor-saving devices threatened jobs in service. A big house could be run with fewer staff, and by the 1920s a manor house that required 100 servants needed only 30-40.

Change is ever present. The last typewriter factory shut its doors in April, 2011.

Women who would otherwise have gone into service were lured into secretarial jobs, which had been revolutionized by the telephone and typewriter.

Many of the aristocratic young men in this photo would not return from war.

The manor house set enjoyed one last season in the summer of 1914, just before war began. Many of the young men who attended those parties would not return from France. Few expected that this war would last for six months, much less four years. Officers lost their lives by a greater percentage than ordinary soldiers, and the casualty lists were filled with the names of aristocratic men and the upper class.

Over 35 million soldiers and civilians died in World War 1

Common soldiers who had died by the millions had been unable to vote. Such inequities did not go unnoticed. Social discontent, noticeable before the war, resulted in reform – the many changes ushered in modern Britain.

As the 20th century progressed, owners found it increasingly hard to maintain their manor houses. According to Lost Heritage, over 1,800 have been lost.

Watch Secrets of the Manor HouseJanuary 22 on PBS. All images from Secrets of the Manor House.

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Gentle readers, this poem in a mid-19th century children’s family circle book perfectly describes the long and arduous day of an ordinary family cook.

The Discontented Cook. Image @Forrester's pictorial miscellany for the family circle edited by Mark Forrester, 1855

Oh, who would wish to be a cook,
To live in such a broil!

With all one’s pains, to cook one’s brains,
And lead a Life of toil?

“Tis, Stir the pudding, Peggy,
And give those ducks a turn;

Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!
Else one or both will burn.

An hour before the rising sun
I’m forced to leave my bed,

To make the fires, and fry the cakes,

And get the table spread.
‘Tis, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!

Else one or both will burn.

The breakfast’s scarely over,

And all things set to rights,
Before the savory haunch, or fowl,

My skill and care invites.
‘T is, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!

Else one or both will burn.

And here I stand before the fire,

And turn them round and round;
And keep the kettle boiling —

I hate their very sound!
‘T is, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!

Else one or both will burn.

And long before the day is spent,

I ‘m all in such a toast,
You scarce could tell which’s done the most

Myself, or what I roast!
‘Tis, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade’.

Else one or both will burn.

From Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle, 1855

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Upstairs Dowstairs returns

Coming to PBS this Sunday, April 10th,  is Upstairs Downstairs, the newly minted series. Except for Rose, the characters have completely changed, but the nature of the program, following the family and the servants who cater to them, has not.

165 Eaton Place

It is 1936, and only six years have passed by since the Bellamys last lived at 165 Eaton Place. The townhouse is an abandoned shell when Lady Agnes Holland (Keely Hawes) and her diplomat husband, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), arrive from abroad to renovate it as their first home in England.

Keely Hawes as Lady Holland looks towards a new future

Rose (Jean Marsh), the only holdover from the original series, has left service to care for a sick aunt and is now self-employed, finding work for other domestics. A frugal Lady Holland solicits her to fill her house with servants. This means she does not mind employing help with little experience and who need training.

Young Johnny (Nico Mirallegro) needs training

Heidi Thomas, who also wrote the script for Cranford, delivered a crisp, intelligent, and witty script that draws viewers in right away, preserving the elements that drew us to the original show. This series (which has been renewed for a second season) stacks up well against its parent very well indeed. (Although my heart will always be with Hudson, the first butler.)

Jean Marsh as Rose

Thirty years or so ago, Upstairs, Downstairs was a television sensation, and rightly so. The series had been conceived by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who was working on another project when filming began, and so she did not play a maid alongside her friend, Jean. Thankfully so, for Ms. Atkins has returned as Maude, Lady Holland a character who lights up the screen as delightfully as Maggie Smith’s dowager Countess  in Downton Abbey.

Eileen Atkins as Lady Maud Holland

In this year of The King’s Speech, it is interesting to note that Wallis Simpson makes an appearance in the first episode and that the cast listens to Edward’s first radio speech as king. The story of the king and his abdication has long legs this season (he and Wallis were also featured in Any Human Heart, also shown on PBS)

Although invited to the party, Wallis Simpson's (Emma Clifford) appearance is not welcome.

Comparisons of Upstairs Downstairs to Downton Abbey are inevitable, but this is unfair. After all, Upstairs, Downstairs arrived on the scene decades earlier and provided the template for all the master/servant stories that followed. Viewers will not be disappointed with the renewal of a most beloved series. I certainly wasn’t.

Image @Radio Times

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The valet (rhymes with pallet) is a personal manservant who tends to his master’s every need, from a clean room to seeing to his clothes to making sure that his entire day goes smoothly from the moment he rises to the time he goes to bed. Also known as a gentleman’s gentleman, the valet is the closest male equivalent to a lady’s maid.

Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) dresses with the help of his valet, who stands ready to put on his coat. In this scene, Mr. Darcy changes his mind and chooses another coat before visiting Elizabeth at the inn. Image @Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Mrs. Beeton describes a valet’s duties in her excellent 1861 book on household management:

His day commences by seeing that his master’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before his master is expected, he will do well to throw up the sash [open the window] to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to recover the temperature which he knows hismaster prefers. It is now his duty to place the body-linen on the horse before the fire, to be aired properly;

Edwardian clothes horse. Image @Denhams.com

to lay the trousers intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned, on the back of his master’s chair; while the coat and waistcoat, carefully brushed and folded, and the collar cleaned, are laid in their place ready to be put on when required. All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.

Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal). While the master shaves, his footmen assist him, making sure his implements are at hand. His valet would have overseen the arrangements and will sharpen the razor and clean the shaving brush after Barry has finished shaving. Image @Barry Lyndon

Gentlemen generally prefer performing the operation of shaving themselves, but a valet should be prepared to do it if required; and he should be a good hairdresser. Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, where that appendage is encouraged, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the age and style of the countenance. Every fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost, the hair should be cut, and the points of the whiskers trimmed as often as required. A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; afterwards, the body-linen. Neck-tie, which he will put on, if required, and, afterwards, waist-coat, coat, and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.”

Other valet duties:

Ian Kelly (Brummel) and Ryan Early in Beau Brummel (2006 play)

  • As his master goes out, the valet hands him his gloves and hat, opens the door for him, and receives his orders for the rest of the day.
  • He puts his master’s dressing-room in order, cleaning combs and brushes, folding clothes and putting them in drawers.
  • If his master has no clothes sense, the valet will select suitable clothes, making sure they are clean, particularly the collars, and maintained in good repair.
  • He consults with the tailor, perfumer, and linen-draper.
  • He awaits his master’s return, making sure that his drawing room is picked up by the maids, and dusted and swept by them, and that the room is made ready with a lit fire and candles.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates (Brendan Coyle) assists Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in Downton Abbey. A valet and his master become close over the years. Image @Downton Chaser

  • The valet stands ready to help his master dress for dinner or any other occasion.
  • He makes sure that the washing table is ready, filling the ewer and carafe with fresh water, and placing the basin towels, brushes, hot water, and shaving apparatus near at hand.
  • In case of wet weather, when his master has returned from riding, the valet lays out a change of dry linen and clothing, and is ready to assist his master out of the damp clothing.
  • He helps his master prepare for journeys, packing enough linen and other clothing for the trip. At the Inns, he takes charge of his master’s comfort as he would at home, and has everything ready to assist his master in dressing and undressing.
  • If no footmen is available during the journey, the valet will also see to these services, even at table.
Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham's service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates' reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham’s service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates’ reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The valet keeps his master’s clothes in good repair:

  • Hats are kept well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handerchief.
  • Clothes placed in a wardrobe are covered with brown holland or linen wrappers to secure them from dust.
  • He places boots and shoes cleaned by the under footman in the dressing room.
  • Slippers are aired by the fire.
  • As soon as his master finishes shaving, the valet will clean the razor and brushes.
  • Before he hangs damp clothing by the fire, he rubs the cloth with a sponge until the smoothness of the nap is restored. If the clothes are allowed to dry before brushing, then later brushing might not remove the roughness.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

In Downton Abbey, Matthew resists Molesley’s services, causing an undue amount of stress to the butler, who also acts as his valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Valets in humbler households:

The butler in a second or third rate establishment takes on the duties of the house steward, valet, and footman as well. He is likely to pay market bills, assist his master in dressing, serve at table and oversee the wine and silver, and superintend other male servants.

Sources:

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